Not long ago, I was lucky enough to serve as the moderator for a content marketing panel at Boulder’s annual Startup Week.
The room full of marketers who braved the mid-May hail to hear LogRhythm’s Director of Content and Communications Mandy Schnirel, Swimlane’s Content Marketing Manager Ellyn Kirtley, and Zayo’s Senior Director of Digital Marketing, Content and Brand Chelsea Storozuk drop knowledge on all things content were well rewarded for their troubles.
For a lively 45 minutes, we got to the heart of what it means to work in the field of content today. And it was simply too good not to share, so I’ve summed up some of my favorite takeaways for your reading pleasure:
Content Has Grown Up
Gone are the days when marketing content meant a thought leadership blog and a Twitter account. Today, “content” means all the material you use to engage prospects and customers and tell your story to drive revenue. “Content marketing is about creating conversations and building trust,” said Mandy. “It’s a long-term effort to engage with the audience you most want to reach.”
“In B2B, people consume content before they ever reach out to sales,” explained Chelsea. “You need to have your content out there if you even want to be considered in their purchasing process.”
And being a content marketer is more complicated than it might sound.
“And content marketers aren’t just copywriters,” Ellyn said. “They’re strategists.”
The reason it’s so important to understand the nuance? Because content is more important than ever. It’s a noisy world out there, and not all content is created equal. Once upon a time, simply creating content might have been enough. But now, the strategy behind what you make, what you say, and where you say it are all as important as the content itself.
The Best Hires are Versatile
What does it take to get hired in the competitive world of content?
Our panelists agreed: The best content marketers are those who can call on both their left and right brain. They bring great storytelling and analytical thinking to the table. “I look for someone who can break down a technical piece in a way that would make it easy for your mom to understand,” explained Mandy.
Strategy Comes First
With an audience full of startup marketers, I had to ask the group how they’d advise a team building a content function from scratch. The answer was unanimous: strategy.
“Don’t make content for content’s sake,” advised Chelsea.
The others agreed. Becoming an order taker early on is a hard habit to break later, and it won’t serve your company the way a strategic approach will.
Whether you build an annual strategy or revisit quarterly, your work should be guided by central themes and mapped to key personas and stages of the buyer’s journey.
It’s also important to be goal oriented. What is the reason you’re producing that asset? If you don’t start with what you want to achieve, you’ll end up running in circles.
Aligning Sales and Marketing Is Key
Sales is one of the most important channels we have as marketers. Getting them to see marketing as a revenue partner rather than a ticket taker, or perhaps worse, an entirely unrelated department is more important than ever.
“Communication is important,” said Mandy. “You need to have those two-way conversations and make sure salespeople feel heard. Before starting our annual planning last year, we spoke with them to understand what content was working and what wasn’t.”
The more you can build communication channels with sales, the more you can deepen trust between the two historically frienemy departments. If you want to avoid sales seeing your team as ticket takers it’s crucial that you guide them to a new perception. Build their trust as a strategic partner, and be transparent about the work you do (for example, with a public editorial calendar and an easy, centralized place for them to find content) so that they understand what you’re creating and how it benefits them.
What’s the Best Content Format? Ask Your Customers
During our audience Q&A, one attendee asked what kinds of content were on-trend. Again, our panelists agreed: While it’s important to keep up with the latest and greatest in content trends, it’s most important to pay attention to what your customers—not your peers—are doing.
Sure, videos on Instagram might be all the rage, but is that where your customers are? Find out where your customers hang out and what they prefer to consume before jumping on the latest trend. (Hint: The answer might be different for different members of your buying group or at different funnel stages.)
It’s an exciting time to be a marketer. The world of content continues to change and grow, and those of us lucky enough to work here won’t be bored any time soon.
The most important commandment? Know thy audience. Your customers should form the basis of everything you do. When you serve them well, you serve your company well, too.